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About The Story
A runaway hit with critics and readers alike, Armistead Maupin's novel The Night Listener seemed to defy categorization. It is at once a layered, Hitchcockian mystery that kept readers guessing, an intimate personal saga about the longing for romantic and family love, as well as a riveting meditation on why we concoct stories, who we tell them to and how their effects resonate through our lives. Maupin himself called the novel "a thriller of the heart,” and admitted that it was partially auto-biographical – largely inspired by an extraordinary, unsettling true-life chain of events that actually happened to Maupin and his ex-partner, Terry Anderson, back in 1992.

It was then that Maupin, the celebrated author of the popular Tales of the City serial novels (which also became an acclaimed television mini-series), was sent a manuscript by a 14 year-old boy who claimed to have survived shocking physical and sexual abuse as a child, and had just penned a heartfelt memoir as a way of healing from his nightmare.

Maupin was so taken by the boy's tale of endurance, he wanted to speak directly with him – and so began an extended long-distance phone friendship with this remarkably wise child and his very protective, adopted mother. Yet one day, after months of camaraderie, Terry Anderson pointed out to Maupin that the boy's voice and his mother's voice were disturbingly similar. Realizing Anderson was right, Maupin began to doubt the boy's very existence. The author's questioning mind went into overdrive: Who was the boy really? Who exactly had written the memoirs? Was any of what he said true? And if not, why would someone create such a lavishly bizarre deception . . . and why did Maupin want so badly to believe in it?

Maupin feared harming the boy if his suspicions were wrong, so he continued his friendship in spite of his deepest misgivings. While the real-life mystery persisted (and eventually became the subject of a haunting but inconclusive article by Tad Friend in The New Yorker), Maupin's imagination continued to spin. He began to see the threads of a literary thriller that could be woven around the very question of human identity itself.

Says Maupin: "I realized that I had stumbled on the most fascinating story of my life -- that I was actually living a novel. I was in the middle of a mystery which delivered to me something that I'd always wanted to write. I've always loved the notion of a thriller that's not built around murder, or larceny, or violence, but rather the mystery of the human heart, and that became The Night Listener. It's about the question of how do we love, what do we become obsessed with, what do we long for – and most of all, how are we blinded by those things? I think they're the most fascinating mysteries of all.”

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